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Friday 18th August 2000


Interview with Jamie Barber - Lead Designer, Z2
Posted: Friday, 18 August 2000 12:58am GMT

    We talk to Jamie Barber, lead designer on Z2.

    GameSpot UK:
    So why a sequel to Z after all this time?


    Jamie Barber:
    The main reason why they are doing this was that there were a lot of things the Bitmaps wanted to put in the original Z but couldn't, in order to make it more mainstream and to give it a little more depth.  We get a lot of mail and feedback from fans from the original game that is very positive. Z was an action strategy game, whereas with Z2 we're concentrating on putting more emphasis on the action.

    Some strategy games lack that - they're not boring, but there's just not much action to them.  It's strange - in recent times Z2 has become substantially more playable than it used to be. There's a lot more functionality to it. In the design and concept stage we thought we had the balance spot on. We had these missions that should have played exactly like Z: you can build your own things, you can do what you want and when you want, go where you want to and you've got objectives in there as well, and it panned it out, but probably slowed it down too much. It lost a lot of what Z had and we had to spend some time to get it back to the spirit of the original title but now it works really well.

    GameSpot UK:
    What kind of missions will players face?


    Jamie Barber:
    The game consists of 30 levels, and the main objective is to conquer the level rather than just run through the objectives that are in there - to play the territories in a logical way, to work out the best routes through the map. The missions were originally objective led, stuff like search and destroy, rescue, infiltrate, capture, assassinate, etc. They will still crop up, but we've gone back to playing the Z way where you start at point A go to point B and do X on the way, rather than these are your objectives, it's still Z but you can do these other things too. We are trying to push it forward all the time, but trying not to change it too much.

    GameSpot UK:
    What do you think are the major advances over the original title?


    Jamie Barber:
    The main advance over the original is that right from the concept stage it was meant to be a full 3D game. The right environment is important - after all it's a war game, but the difference is now it's 3D and you've got a full war machine, with an army, navy and air force. It allows a lot more flexibility - for example, you can take troops and drop them behind enemy lines. It opens up all sorts of strategic possibilities.

    GameSpot UK:
    Can you tell us something about the new graphics engine?


    Jamie Barber:
    We started developing it before we even finished the original game.  We knew at some point we would have to go 3D, so we started to build up the tools at a very early stage. Originally the engine was developed as a general-purpose game engine and not specifically for Z2 - but it's become an extremely powerful, very quick and very flexible piece of technology.

    GameSpot UK:
    How complex is Z2's AI and what challenges will it offer the player?


    Jamie Barber:
    The original Z's unit AI is very advanced, and in my opinion nothing has touched it since. But we've tried to make it go further, so it can pretty much do what you're thinking to an extent. The AI really gives you a challenge as a player. What a lot of strategy games do is bolt the AI on afterwards rather than make it an actual integral part of the game, whereas we've been continually modernising and updating it so it would be pretty powerful. It allows us to do AI commands in various different disguises, to trigger events if you will.

    In certain games, you know that you've triggered something, it's obvious and you lose the level. So what you do next time is avoid that trigger until you're strong enough. We use that technique a little to be fair, but it's always better as a surprise, it's a shock the first time, but becomes dull the second time. We can also adjust the AI - if the player is doing particularly badly we can get it to lay off a bit. It's better to leave the AI to do what it wants rather than telling it what to do.

    GameSpot UK:
    Will storyline play an important role in the game?


    Jamie Barber:
    There is a storyline, which is a bit classified right now: it has darker humour than the original and new characters. Currently the game starts at the end of this big war in ZZ2 starts with someone up shooting down a plane and the rest of the story just sort of progresses from there. Of course there are all sorts of plots, twists and sub-plots but that's all we're saying for the moment.

    GameSpot UK:
    What kind of units do you get to control?


    Jamie Barber:
    Well you've got extra robots, which we've expanded to include a navy, which is more of a distraction at the moment. There's also an air force, which consists of a couple of jets, helicopters and a similar mix of buildings, and more than the average mix of things to play with. More than anything we've tried to give all the units a purpose. The other thing to mention with the units is that we've used combinations, some of which are commonplace like WW2, not too overly futuristic. It's pretty believable, we didn't want to go too sci-fi and we feel strongly that people like to be able to associate with things. We've been doing a lot of research, reading up on weapons of mass destruction, which admittedly was a bit weird.

    GameSpot UK:
    Is multiplayer set to be a big feature in Z2?


    Jamie Barber:
    We will be supporting up to eight players in total because we feel that's a nice balance. With more than eight players the maps have to be so big, it's not really feasible or even enjoyable to play. We haven't really decided whether it will be server based, possibly not, it might be a case of anyone can be the server. Servers are great for building communities, but with Z it's best to keep it as it is when you're playing with an army. We also intend on releasing our map editor, which is the one we actually used to build the game. We haven't actually decided if or when we'll release it yet, but it's quite user friendly and not too complex.

    GameSpot UK:
    When can we expect to see Z2 in action and will you develop it for next-generation formats?


    Jamie Barber:
    The release date is not confirmed yet, we intend finishing it by the end of the year. It's just PC at the moment, but you never know...

Taken from GameSpot UK

GameSpot UK

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